Recently, the President and First Lady honored the 2012 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams at the White House. President Obama remarked at the event, “one of the great things about watching our Olympics is we are a portrait of what this country is all about – people from every walk of life, every background, every race, and every faith. It sends a message to the world about what makes America special.”
Among those who competed with Team USA in the London 2012 Olympic Games were more than 35 foreign-born Americans according the U.S. Olympic Committee. All are proud reminders of America’s rich tradition as a country that welcomes immigrants and remains the land of opportunity. When new Americans succeed, we are all better off. It is through hard work and a commitment to excellence that these Americans with immigrant and refugee roots made it to the highest levels of athletic competition. We salute all of Team USA members. Below are two examples of the athletic accomplishments of two of America’s immigrant athletes on Team USA.
Lopez Lomong came to the United States as a refugee at the age of sixteen, at a time when his home country of Sudan was in turmoil and civil war. In 2007, Lopez became a naturalized citizen and a year later, he led America’s athletes into the Olympic stadium in Beijing. At the London 2012 Olympics, Lopez competed once again in the 5,000-meter event and finished in 10th place. Of his role on Team USA, Lopez says, “This is my gift, to give back to this country that has given me a second chance… I love the United States.”
Standing at a height of 6-feet-2, Foluke Akinradewo is a formidable volleyball player. Foluke was born in Canada and grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Her talents go beyond the volleyball court. In high school, she was an all-state in basketball and track. She attended Stanford University where she majored in human biology, and was a PAC-10 volleyball player in 2007 and 2008. At the 2008 Beijing Olympic games, Foluke was an alternate to Team USA and in London 2012, she was a huge factor in the United States winning a Silver Medal in volleyball.
The hard work of these American athletes illustrates that our country fundamentally remains a land that welcomes those seeking opportunity and willing to work hard. They are helping to make the United States a more perfect union.
Immigrant contributions to our country are not limited to athletics. Immigrants are contributing and helping to grow our economy. They are our doctors, our engineers, our lawyers and school teachers. The future of the United States hinges on the manner in which we protect this truly American spirit of openness and welcome to the world.
Felicia Escobar is the Senior Policy Director for Immigration, White House Domestic Policy Council.